Years ago, the great mountain climber and documentary film producer David Breashears visited my classroom and answered a question about what he considered the most important leadership attribute. He said, "restraint." He went on to explain that the best leaders do not state their position strongly at the outset in most cases, because it will have undue influence on team members and perhaps cause them to self-censor. Instead, they listen first, before offering their opinions.
I actually think great leaders exercise three forms of restraint:
1. They do not state their positions at the outset of a decision-making process. Instead, they ask the team members to discuss the issue, share information, and offer alternatives.
2. They do not react immediately when someone offers an idea or alternative. Instead, they turn to other members of the team and ask for their thoughts. In so doing, they try to facilitate dialogue among team members, rather than creating a one-to-one conversation between leader and idea originator.
3. Rather than beginning a critical examination of a proposal by identifying its obvious weaknesses, leaders can try to probe for understanding. They can try to learn a bit more about the reasoning and the assumptions behind the proposal. They might say, "Help me understand why you think that is a preferred course of action." That line of questioning may help create a much more constructive conversation, and it may help the group identify other options that satisfy the goals and objectives of the person who originated the initial proposal.